Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Meaning, Ramblings, Spirit, Worship

Growing Impatience in a Very Odd Advent

Advent has always been a season of reflection for me (which usually results in more writing, as evidenced by all these past Advent thoughts).

This has been an odd Advent. Instead of writing and reflecting on waiting, I’m just waiting.

There are always things I’m waiting for. Longings, anticipations, expectations. Usually, though, these things are a bit vague and conceptual – I’m waiting for a deeper sense of internal rhythm, I’m waiting for resolution of a large story in progress, I’m waiting for peace on earth.

This year we’re waiting for a baby to be born. Jesus, yes, but also our own. We’re within spitting distance of the due date of our second child, but I think both Krissy and I anticipated having this child born already.

But the baby is staying put. So we’re waiting, waiting, and still waiting.

And the impatience is growing.

Impatience because this thing we expected to have happened already hasn’t happened.
Impatience because our anticipated timeline is not our actual timeline.
Impatience because life goes on even as we wait.
Impatience because we are not in control and there is so very little we can do.

As I survey the state of my soul, I’ve sensed a subtle (and sometimes less subtle) snippiness, dissatisfaction, and dis-ease, a proclivity towards distraction more than life-giving rhythm. In a world of on-demand, express-shipping, fast-food, I am recognizing in myself an atrophied patience.

This Advent at Open Door, we’ve been making our way through a journey Toward the Approaching Light. I’ve loved that imagery because it speaks of multi-faceted movement. It is not simply that we are journeying toward Christmas one week at a time, but that the Light itself is approaching.

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And that’s been a helpful reminder for me in this season of impatient waiting.

Even in the midst of a world in turmoil, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unfulfilled longing, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unexpected frustration, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of distraction and delay, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of growing impatience, the Light itself is approaching.

Even in the midst of yet another Advent season where we join the chorus of two thousand years of waiting, the Light itself is approaching.

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Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Calendar, Church, Global, Meaning, Ramblings, Stories

Fearing Advent: Who is Coming To Our House?

My son has a book that we read to him during the Advent season. It’s called Who is Coming to This House? and it’s told from the perspective of animal narrators preparing their house (the stable) for the arrival of Mary, Joseph, and the soon-to-be-born Jesus.

Who is Coming To Our House?As the story progresses, each of the animal has a page featuring what they are doing to prepare – the goose puts feathers in the manger, the horse gets the door open, and the spider spins new webs. I am not sure how new spider webs are a welcoming and inviting feature for a manger-birth, but I guess the point of the story is that we all have something we can do to prepare our homes (in the broadest sense – our hearts and homes and spheres of activity and influence) for God’s Arrival.

When Advent began, we pulled the book out of our Christmas box and began to read it in our nightly bedtime routine. The Boy loves books, and for the first few days this was no different. He loved the different animals and occasionally would recite the simple rhymes found throughout the book. He was especially fond of the squeaky voice of the mouse who, throughout the story, reassures the other animals that “someone, someone” is coming to the house.

And then he stopped wanting to read the book. He would suggest other books or say he was ready for a story or a song.

After a few days of this, I pressed him. Why don’t you want to read this book?

It’s too scary for me,” he insisted.

Huh? Too scary?

I got curious and asked him for details but he had none to offer. He insists the book is too scary for him and refuses to read it. If we pull it off his shelf and hand it to him, he’ll grab it and slip it behind his chair, perhaps in the hopes it will disappear until next Christmas.

Advent is a season of wonder and expectation. A season of waiting. But it is also a season of arrival.

Someone is coming to our house and this house of ours is a mess.

Our justice system is broken;
Our biases and prejudices are brutally on display.
Our ocean is full of garbage;
Our world is overheating.
Our hearts are stingy;
Our hands are idle.

This house of ours is a mess. We’re not ready for a guest – not an innocent baby and not a God-in-flesh.

Maybe a dose of fear is appropriate for Advent?

But the beauty of Christmas is God-in-flesh-disguised-as-an-innocent-baby arrives in the midst of the mess and because of the mess.

Someone is coming to our house:

In the midst of and because of a broken justice system;
In the midst of and because of brutal prejudices.
In the midst of and because of our trashed ocean.
In the midst of and because of our warming world.
In the midst of and because of our stingy hearts.
In the midst of and because of idle hands.

As Advent draws to a close and makes way for Christmas…
As our language shifts from ‘Someone is Coming to Our House’ to ‘Emmanuel has Arrived’
As we realize our inability to clean up our messy house…

…perhaps we learn to heed the words of every angelic messenger ever sent:

Fear Not.

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Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Homiletics, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Worship

With Advent’s Close, the Story Continues

xmastreeThis is a homily/reflection written for Christmas Eve, as the introspective waiting place of Advent transitions into the celebratory joy of Christmas. As Christmas Eve approached, I was struck by the question of how Christmas actually addresses the ‘hopes and fears’ to which we gave voice during the Advent season, as more often than not, the things we’ve waited and hoped for go unrealized even as we celebrate with Christmas. As Advent comes to a close, the story of a waiting people continues.

For thousands of years, Israel waited and hoped. An oppressed people, they longed for rescue. Centuries of waiting and hoping.

A thousand years before the birth of Christ the poets of Israels begged God:

God, Restore us, let your face shine on us that we might be saved. Stir up your might and come save us.

One thousand years. One thousands cycles of Advent waiting. Waiting and hoping for rescue and restoration. The story continues.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Micah wrote these words:

But you, Bethlehem, though you are small, out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel, the ruler spoken of in the ancient story. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength and majesty of the Lord. Your people will live securely, his greatness will reach the end of the earth, and he will be our peace.

Three hundred years after this cry for rescue, comes this promise that a ruler will come. Not immediate fulfillment, but a promise for the future. A reason to continue hoping. So the story continues.

Then, 1,000 years after the poet’s cry for help, 700 years after the promise was renewed in the prophecies of Micah, there was reason for great hope and anticipation of the birth of this coming king, for the Lord brought life to a young girl’s womb where there should have been no life, and a baby was on the way.

Mary, filled with the spirit of God, anticipating the mighty deeds God would do through this baby sings:

he has brought down rulers from their thrones, lifted up the humble, fed the hungry, he is remembering to be merciful to our people forever, fulfilling the promises of old.

And Zechariah, filled with the same spirit, sings:

God has raised up a horn of salvation – a king! – to remember his covenant and bring about rescue and redemption. 

Expectation was at an all time high. Finally, the cry of 1,000 years and the promise of 7 centuries fulfilled. Or so it seemed.

For thirty-three years after this baby’s birth they waited and expected. For the promised king to lead his people out of the broken past and broken present into the future of their expectations. But the story, always full of surprising twists and turns, continues. Two thousand twelve years later, the story still continues.

It continues because tonight, we gather, and we are still waiting. This last month of Advent we have focused on becoming people of hope in the midst of our waiting. You can only hope for something you do not yet have, so to be a people of hope is to be a people who recognize our world and the lives we live are not yet as they should be. To have hope is to choose to believe that the way things are now is not the way they will always be.

Tomorrow, on Christmas, we will look back two thousand years and say unto us a child – a king – has been born. But we still wait and hope. Because there’s so much in our lives and in our world to wait and hope for.

For jobs. For relationships. For better financial situations. For healing in the broken and lonely places of our hearts. For a world where we don’t worry about children and teachers in our schools. A world where girls in Afghanistan can collect wood without fear of land mines. Where all children in Kenya are embraced with provision and love. A world where the most basic and the deepest needs of our neighbors are met.

In the midst of brokenness, we wait and we hope. Eager for the arrival of Christmas to set things right. To fulfill the hopeful longings of our hearts. To mend and heal the brokenness we see and feel and experience. But tomorrow Christmas will come and the story will continue.

With the poets and prophets, with Mary and Zechariah who looked forward to this baby’s birth, we look back to find our hopes wrapped up in the birth of this baby. But as we look back we find not quick and easy answers or resolutions, but a mystery.

The mystery of royalty born not in a palace but in a stable. The mystery of a king who turns the social order upside down not through power or force but through sacrifice and humility. The mystery of a savior and redeemer who saves and redeems not in the blink of an eye but in an unfolding story – the story of a kingdom that, like a mustard seed or baker’s yeast, in slow and small but steady ways is transforming the world around us.

So tomorrow, even as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the story will continue as this year’s Advent and Christmas lead us into a new year where we continue to wait.

Like the world of Narnia as imagined by C.S. Lewis, we experience a perpetual winter of waiting. Aslan the lion is king, but there is little evidence of that in a world where it is always winter but never Christmas. But for those who continue to wait and watch, signs of hope are everywhere. Snow melting and rivers forming, the sound of laughter and song. Small but sure signs that the promises of old are coming true even as we continue to wait. 

The story continues as we wait, but we do not wait without hope. Instead, with eyes of faith, we experience the birth of this baby as a window into the ongoing works of the king and his kingdom. We anticipate the mystery and with Mary, we treasure and ponder how all of our waiting is caught up in the birth of this baby.

Narnia’s winter is our Advent. Prolonged waiting but signs of Christmas everywhere for those with eyes to see.

As you continue to wait, wait not just with hopeful expectation, but faith. Faith that all our waiting will be met in the mystery of this baby’s birth. Faith that our waiting does not go unnoticed. Faith that a baby’s cry signifies a mighty work unfolding even now in our midst.

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Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

(An Advent Story) The Complexity of Waiting

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Having a kid has changed the way I experience Advent.

Or, more specifically, the process of desiring and hoping for and then receiving a child has changed the way I experience Advent.

But more than that, the process of waiting has changed me.

I’ve written a decent amount about our pregnancy process (A Baby on the Way Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) but reflecting on the story of Everett’s arrival during the season of Advent has  allowed me to process some of the emotions and transitions of the past year.

Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, and expecting.

During the season of Advent, we remember and stand with Israel’s centuries of waiting for a Messiah.

During the season of Advent, we remember and stand with a young unwed girl from Palestine during a mysterious and miraculous pregnancy.

During the season of Advent, we remember and stand with all of creation longing and groaning for redemption.

For weeks and months that dragged on for nearly two years, we waited and longed for a child. When you wait that long for something so big, at some point you start to feel like you are crazy. Crazy for wanting something so badly. Crazy for thinking there’s any chance to see your hopes fulfilled. Crazy for continuing to wait.

Waiting is a weird and complex thing. Waiting changed how I prayed and how I read the Scriptures. Waiting changed how I interacted with my friends, especially those who seemed to have all that I was waiting for. Waiting was difficult and sometimes even ruinous as hearing news of great joy in the life of others could bring about such complex and conflicted sadness in my own heart.

As you wait, even for desires that may never be fulfilled, the scope of your vision and the shape of your heart are ever-changing. Waiting causes you to taste, see, and feel the world differently. Like the painfully-grassy blades of grass in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, the waiter’s world is richer and truer not in light of the pain and difficulty of waiting but because of the pain and difficulty of waiting.

Modest Mouse has a song in which they sing

If life’s not beautiful without the pain, Well I’d just rather never ever even see beauty again.

I love that line because I have been in the place where pain blocks all other perspective.

Advent affirms that place and then draws us into a new place, calling us to see waiting as a practice that changes us as it leads to hope and joy.

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Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Equipping, Homiletics, Meaning, Ramblings

(An Advent Story) What’s Left When You Ruin the Surprise?

I hate secrets. Well, that’s not exactly true. I don’t like surprises. I am fine being surprised so long as I know what it is that I am being surprised with.

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I remember as a kid when I found one of my mom’s hiding spots for my Christmas presents. I never told her I found them, because knowing in advance what it was that I was going to unwrap on December 25 was so great.

But then one year I got caught. Not caught peeking at the boxes tucked away under the staircase in the basement (that spot’s still safe), but caught peeking in the back of our Suburban after being told explicitly by my dad not to look back there.

It was early December and my dad picked my up from the bus. The first thing he told me when I got back in the car was not to look in the back.

As soon as he told me not to look, I knew that I would look. I wonder if he knew too.

I had to look. It’s what I do. I am a Christmas present peeker.

And so later that night after getting home, sometime after excusing myself from the supper table and managed to make my way outside without being caught.

I got to the car. Opened the back doors. And pushed away the blanket.

Just as I saw what was underneath I heard the door swing open and my dad rush outside.

DAVID! What are you doing? I told you not too look back there!

Caught.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to confront my dad (or my mom, who had since joined him outside).

So I ran away from the house up into our barn. Where else could I go? I figured I’d  have to spend at least a few weeks in there before my parent’s anger would calm down again.

But I needed to be home by Christmas morning. As long as they didn’t return it, I knew I was going to love my Christmas gift that year.

But looking back I wonder what was lost through my inability to wait.

(1) What did I miss out on? I received the object that was in the back of the Suburban on Christmas morning, but what kind of surprise, joy, and gladness did I NOT receive that was also intended for me?

(2) What did my parents miss out on? How did my impatience affect the time, money, and effort they had spent picking out a gift for me?

In my unwillingness to wait – in ruining the surprise – did I miss the gift I was to receive?

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